The penalties levied on the Houston Astros on Monday elicited mixed emotions. Most seemed to think that Rob Manfred should have come down harder on them, while others believed the punishment was appropriate.
One part of the punishment was the loss of the Astros’ first two round draft picks in the next two drafts. That’s what I want to focus on since people such as Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch aren’t the ones actually playing the game and a $5 million fine isn’t going to move the needle on the team’s performance.
Craig Edwards of FanGraphs wrote up a piece last year on how to value draft picks. At a high level, he used WAR produced over the first ten seasons for college draftees and eleven seasons for high school draftees. To normalize the playing field, players’ WAR were spread out across the last seven season of the period. The distributing of the WAR replicates a development curve and also makes sure that discounts from arbitration aren’t too large. The sample consisted of picks over a 15-year period (1993-2007). It uses a present-value WAR for each pick of $9 million per WAR, and then subtracts the bonus slot amount.
Here is the chart for the first ten picks:
Present Value of Pick ($/M)
The Astros were slated to pick 30th overall in 2020, and that came with a value of $10.1 million. The 60th overall pick (their second rounder) has a value of around $4.7 million. Thus, for 2020, the Astros would lose a present value amount of about $14.8 million. Over two years that would approach $30 million.
The team still has plenty of major-league talent to compete for a championship once again, and so their draft standings in the next two drafts will likely be low. However, their top prospect (and top-20 prospect in the league) Forrest Whitley was drafted 17th overall, their third-ranked prospect Korey Lee was drafted 32nd overall, and their fifth-ranked prospect Abraham Toro was drafted in the fifth round.
Other research has shown that from 2000-2010, the average bWAR of a player picked from 26th-30th overall was 4.5. For reference, Freddie Freeman had a bWAR of 4.4 in 2019 as did J.T. Realmuto. Bryce Harper was at 4.2 and Gleyber Torres was at 3.9. It is not the best stat, but it still shows that a player at the end of the first round could become a decent major-leaguer. A “successful” major-league player has a bWAR of 1.5-2.5, and it was found that the chance to find a “successful” player or better in picks 26-30 was around 16 percent.
It won’t hurt them in the short-term, but fans who had hoped for a harsher penalty can only dream that it comes back to bite them long term.